An assistant U.S. Attorney withdrew a motion to muzzle an internet reporter covering the sentencing of a man convicted of transferring machine gun parts during an August 11 hearing, according to the targeted reporter.
“I think she just didn’t like the mean comments (on the YouTube video),” John Crump told The Epoch Times.
Mr. Crump hosts the John Crump News YouTube channel and frequently contributes to the AmmoLand.com Shooting and Sports News website.
According to filings with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Cofer Taylor requested the court order Mr. Crump to destroy any copies of a pre-sentencing report he had obtained in the case of United States v. Kristopher Justinboyer Ervin and Matthew Raymond Hoover.
She also requested the court to issue a gag order against Crump and require him to verify in writing that the report had been destroyed.
Speaking on his YouTube channel after the hearing, Mr. Crump said Ms. Taylor didn’t talk during the August 11 hearing. He said a different U.S. Attorney spoke to the court.
“He said the government decided it was in their best interests to go ahead and withdraw that motion,” Mr. Crump said.
In her motion, Ms. Taylor claimed the report was privileged. The motion recounted telephone conversations between Mr. Hoover and Mr. Crump discussing the report and how Mr. Crump would report it. The conversations were recorded because Mr. Hoover is in federal custody awaiting sentencing.
Ms. Taylor’s motion also recounts comments left on Mr. Crump’s YouTube videos about the case. Many of the comments are offensive, making implicit threats and referencing that Ms. Taylor has cancer.
Will Daniels, a U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman in Tampa, Fla., would not comment. The U.S. Department of Justice media contact in Washington did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.
Prior Restraint Criticized
In response to the government’s motion, Mr. Crump’s attorneys expressed outrage that the prosecutor would resort to prior restraint. This concept has been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court many times.
“Taking a page straight from Orwell’s 1984, the United States of America has asked this Court to take a blowtorch to the First Amendment, and impose a prior restraint on a non-party’s publication and dissemination of information contained in a nonclassified, nonprivileged, nonsensitive criminal Presentence Report,” the response reads. “To call the government’s request untethered to American Constitutional law would be putting it mildly.”
Mr. Crump’s lawyers invoked a historic First Amendment decision as part of their argument.
In 1967 Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara commissioned a report on American progress in the war in Vietnam. Portions of the report, which did not reflect well on the United States, were leaked to the New York Times in 1971. The government sued to prevent the publication of the documents citing national security concerns.
On June 30, 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the government had failed to prove its case and that publication of the so-called “Pentagon Papers” was in the public interest under the First Amendment. Mr. Crump’s lawyers said the same principle applies.
Reminiscent of Pentagon Papers
“Prior restraints are the most egregious restrictions on expressive rights, and are subject to the strongest presumption of invalidity,” the response reads. “Accordingly, a gag order preventing reporting by third parties on a matter of public concern would strike at the very heart of the press and speech freedoms guaranteed in our bill of rights.”
Gun Owners of America (GOA) provided legal assistance and issued a statement after the hearing.
“We are grateful to our legal team for their quick and decisive efforts to block this gag order on Second Amendment reporter John Crump, who is a good friend of GOA. This assault on freedom of the press was unacceptable, and we were proud to help in blocking the government’s attempt to censor John’s reporting,” Erich Pratt, GOA’s senior vice president, wrote in a statement to The Epoch Times.